How I Became a Reader and Writer


Holly Lisle had an interesting article linked to her blog from December 10. She wanted to know how we became readers and writers [sometimes in spite of public school]. I forced myself out of lurk-y-land and answered, but it got way too long, so I decided to put it over here.

And now I find that in all my clicking to get over here, the damned thing flew into cyberspace, and now I have to start over! Ach!

Oh well, here we go again.

I currently homeschool my oldest daughter who is seven. I have a five year old son and a two year old daughter as well, so I’m not the most consistent in my teaching. I have been thinking about sending her to second grade next year at public school [I don’t think I’ve done enough to get her ready for third grade, which is what she’s ready for age-wise.]

My son will be old enough to go to Kindergarten next year, and I have been sorely tempted to send him to public school as well. My motivation for wanting to, however, was more about me thinking, “I could get so much done with just one kid around!” than what is actually best for him. That’s horrible, I know, but I’ve changed my mind now, so no harm done. I’m definitely waiting until he and my youngest are at least seven.

I’m thinking we’ll go ahead and put my oldest in school next year, though. In the past month, she has gone from thinking she could only read words from the Hooked on Phonics workbook, to reading everything she can get her hands on. Today when I told her she was too old to drink out of a sippy cup [I said something like, “I don’t think the other seven year olds still drink out of sippy cups,” She looked at me and said, “I’m not one of them.” I was too proud to get onto her about her attitude!] I have her write in her journal every day, and she’s already making up stories!

Which is something I never did at her age.

Which is where I begin the sad tale that is the life of Shelbi at school. Sheesh, reading that article about public school, and the comments over at Holly’s blog, bring back such awful memories. Well, here goes.

I was always a sensitive kid, and “old” for my age, but I was pretty well-adjusted, self-confident, and happy, until I started Kindergarten. The difference between what I thought school would be, compared to what it actually was, stole my confidence, and my voice. I am just now, at 31, finding what I lost twenty six years ago.

The first day of school, I was so excited. I just knew that I was going to make so many new friends, and learn about everything! I was finally going to learn multiplication, and how to write in cursive, and lots of other stuff so amazing, I couldn’t even imagine it. After the first day, I was thinking [and may have actually said to my dad] “I waited all my life for THAT?!” From first grade on, at the beginning [and the end] of the school year, I mentally counted how many more years I had to be in that place. At six years old, eleven years was freakin’ forever!

It was probably first grade when I had my first bout of depression. I don’t think they knew kids could get depressed back in 1981, so it went untreated, and plagued me at least once a year, until I started Zoloft for post-partum depression after my son was born. It wasn’t until after I felt better that I realized I had suffered from major depression for so long. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if we’d figured it out earlier.

Anyway, I could read by the end of kindergarten [and may have been able to read before that. I know that I could write my letters and spell a few words before I started kindergarten, so maybe I could read, too.]

Things went off-kilter pretty quickly in first grade. My teacher was one of the prettiest ladies I’d ever seen, and I remember thinking that she would be the best teacher yet. She turned out to be the cruelest, screaming-est woman that ever walked the face of the earth. She yelled herself hoarse more than once at my class that year.

I remember one time, I hadn’t had breakfast and I was starving. We were making some weird art project where we had to glue cereal [I think it was Kaboom] onto a piece of paper. She only gave us a small handful, and ordered us not to eat it. I glued mine onto my paper, but later, couldn’t resis,t and ate the cereal off of it, glue and all. She yelled at me in front of the class, and made me feel horrible. I knew then that she hated me. [I did say I was sensitive. I would replay the scenes in my head of all the times she got mad at me that year, and sink further away.]

By the end of the school year, I had begun a pattern that would plague me all through school and into college. I was chronically late with homework, many times never turning it in at all. I just sat and daydreamed. I invented worlds and scenarios in my head that were way more interesting that the pathetic thing that was my life. I always passed my classes, though. The teachers would keep me in from recess until I got the crap done.

It helped that I was smart. But even though I knew how to read and had a vivid imagination, I rarely read stories that weren’t assigned [with a million questions to answer afterward]. And I never wrote my imagined stories down.

On a few occasions, I would try to write a poem or short story. I got passing grades, but I wasn’t one of the kids who got singled out for anything. If I was good at it, I wasn’t good enough. I was shy, quiet, and invisible in elementary school, loud, obnoxious and not to be taken seriously in jr. high and high school, and no one knew who my parents were [it was a small school and the teacher’s kids were always the ‘darlings’ of the class. My high school counselor was the mom of one of my classmates, and when it came time for scholarships, she made sure her daughter applied for all the right ones. When my turn came for the ‘counseling session,’ she handed me a scholarship application for the local community college and gave me no guidance in filling it out. Her daughter took the ACT (kinda like the SATs) three times to get a 30 out of 36 on it so she could get a ‘bright flight scholarship.’ I took it once and got a 27. When I asked the counselor if I needed to take it again, she said, “No, you did good enough.” Never even offered me an application for any of the scholarships her daughter was going for. Sorry I ranted, that whole thing still pisses me off.]

Anyway, I may have sucked at writing when I was in school. Heaven knows I didn’t really apply myself.

After high school, I went to college for a year on a pell grant [never did apply for a scholarship]. I took a couple of English classes, and maybe a creative writing class, but I just couldn’t plug in. I still hated school, and college felt just like high school, only bigger. I applied for their one year LPN [nursing] program and got in the first time.

The first semester, I got a 4.0 just by listening in class. I hardly cracked a book. During the second semester, which fell during my yearly bout of ‘recurrent major depression,’ I didn’t do my homework [clinical papers: boring busy work designed to show that you know what you’re doing and why, but a royal pain in the ass and not the least bit creative or fun.] I had a natural feel for taking care of sick people, knew the stuff even if I wouldn’t write it down, passed all my tests with a high B average, and got kicked out anyway for not doing my homework. That was pretty awful.

But, I was an avid reader of anything not school-oriented by the time I was in junior high. My mom always bought me these big sets of hardback books. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women” series and several others she wrote was one set. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables” series was another. There was one set of ‘classics,’ that had “National Velvet by Enid Bagnold[which I never read] and several others. The only one of those I read was “I Am the Cheese,” by Robert Cormier and that was because it was listed in some goofy teen magazine as River Phoenix’s favorite book (see this entry for the explanation of River Phoenix, if you’re interested) She also got me “Flowers in the Attic,” by V.C. Andrews, but I am sure that she had no idea what that story was about. I think she saw the covers and they had kids on the front and thought, “I bet Shel would like those.” It still makes me laugh, and if she ever read them, she was probably a little embarrassed.

I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on ever since, but Anne Shirley and Jo March were always, and still are, my favorite characters of all time. I related to both of them so well. They were a little quirky, most people didn’t understand them, and they were writers!

With those two stories, the tiniest germ of a dream began for me, hidden way back in the recesses of my brain. Buried away for centuries until one day [and I swear, I’m not making this up!] I was surfing the web, looking up writing links on a [not so much] whim. I found several sites, and one of them recommended Holly Lisle’s Website. I followed the link, read all of the articles in a couple of days [the husband and kiddies weren’t very happy with me!] and was hooked. I knew without a doubt that I needed to write.

I finally came to terms with my dream of being a writer, and began to believe that I could do this thing. It’s been a rocky road so far, though [and I ain’t talkin’ ice cream, either]. I’ve had three false starts on three different novels, all with very different plots [and problems, the biggest of which has been my own inconsistency in committing my time and energy into just writing the stupid thing, even if it sucks.] But, I’ve taken inventory, which I’ll talk about some other time, and found some characters, and the beginnings of a story line that I really like, and it’s clamoring to be written. And so, I’ve begun again.

And this time, I will do it, ‘come hell or high water.’

Okay, that’s it. The grand saga leading up to the beginning of the story. I started blogging to get in the habit of writing every day. My entries aren’t always Breathtaking Masterpieces of Spectacular Prose, [okay, I’ve never had one of those]. There are still typos in some of them [I blogged about that one day, and never got around to editing my other posts]. And, I’m sometimes boring, but dammit I’m writing! And that’s what matters.

Okay, I’m done.


About Shelbi

Work-at-home wife, mom of three kids, and caregiver for my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy. Never a dull moment, in other words. No idea how much I'll post, since I'm super busy these days, but maybe I'll get over here once in a while.

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